LEARNING TO FLY
THE AVERAGE FIRST FLIGHTfor the pilot who is trying to teach himself to fly is around four seconds - before the plane hits the deck and is badly damaged. It is very rare for pilots to be totally self taught without many disappointments and them spending considerable time in the workshop.
There are a number of things to learn - and they may not be taught in this order. Your trainer may start by getting the plane in the sky - to let you experience being at the controls - before covering the other important features.
WHEN TO FLY
Some areas have constraints upon when you can fly, particularly Internal Combustion models.
WHERE TO FLY
Your trainer will help you with this - both the geographical location and the local constraints and prohibited areas.
Common requirements are:
A calm day is preferred, but some gliders require a breeze to launch into to gain a decent height. Lighter gliders cope with still conditions better.
Puffy white clouds on a blue sky, like the opening credits of "The Simpsons" indicate likelihood of good lift.
WHAT TO WEAR
Decent sunglasses (a good source for quality sunglasses at very good prices is the Anti-Cancer shop in your area) and a hat with a peak. Bring sunscreen for sun and wind burn - and a jacket in case you underestimate the wind-chill factor.
In very cold weather I fly in overalls and a ski parka.
Safety is a simple matter of a single philosophy;
PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN PLANES.
Be observant, think ahead and fly when and where there is minimum risk to others.
Speak to fellow fliers, Ask what is required of you and Advise your proposed intentions
Main causes of accidents are:
In Australia, the most common form of frequency clearance is the placing of a "key" (a rectangular coloured piece of plastic) on the frequency control board in the slot corresponding to the transmitting frequency.The frequency MUST be on the key (have different keys for each frequency).
NEVER let anyone else place your key in for you or remove anyone else's. You'll see others do it and when the clash occurs - that may well be the reason (I've seen it happen.)
At the slope - this is sometimes less formal - so it is necessary to go to all the other fliers to ensure that there is no frequency conflict.
You must never turn on your radio without first having frequency clearance. you may be liable for any damage caused by you "shooting down" someone else's plane!!!
HOW YOUR RADIO WORKS
You will be shown the key components of your radio - and, as you progress, the more advanced features.
The purpose of this is to ensure your transmitter and receiver are working. Having got your frequency clearance, turn on your transmitter and then your receiver, and with your radio aerial down, walk about 30 paces from the plane. The servos should respond to what you are telling them without jittering. Note that if the grass or ground is wet, this may reduce your range.
Range check - with aerial DOWN, check that everything still works 30 metres from the plane
If you have an electric plane, have an able assistant hold it, keeping well clear of the prop in case the motor starts, as you do your range check. Give the plane throttle (your assistant must be ready for this) and ensure that it still works fine.
Remember to put your aerial up again before you fly. (Yep - forgotten it myself and seen it forgotten by others!!)
GENERAL AIRWORTHINESS CHECK.
No warps in the wings. Is everything in the right place and working? Is the Centre of Gravity correct? Is anything flopping around? Is everything secure and the wings properly attached? Are the control throws reasonable and are the trims centred?
ARE YOU FLYING THE RIGHT MODEL?
You won't be the first flier to have programmed the wrong model into the transmitter. I've done it a couple of times!
ARE THE CONTROLS GOING THE RIGHT WAY?
Another killer - I've seen many planes killed by this one and nearly done a couple myself. Ailerons and V tails are the easiest to make mistakes on determining the correct control direction.
If you're lucky your trainer will be able to run you on a Buddy Box, which is where he has full control of the plane can hand it over - and take it back - at the flick of a switch. (With a JR 3810 I can hand over one function at a time, to my lower level 4 channel JR radio acting as a "slave".)
A QUICK LESSON IN AERONAUTICS
Before we go further, you need to know about airflow.
(a) You MUST have airflow over the wings for the wings to hold the plane up. No airspeed = no flight - just falling!
If the airspeed over the wing is insufficient to provide the required lift, this is called dropping to or below "stall speed". You must fly above the plane's "stall speed".
(b) You must have airflow over the control surfaces (rudder/elevator) or they won't steer / control your plane.
If speed drops when you are a long way up, the nose will drop, the plane will pick up speed, the airspeed will increase to above stall speed and the speed required for the control surfaces to have effect - and you're back in business.
BUT if this all happens just off the ground, there is simply no room to recover and the plane will crash. I will refer to stalling and this all-important airspeed throughout this article.
THE CONE OF SAFETY
Subject to the constraints of the flying field and club safety requirements, most of your flying will be done in a specific area, determined by the wind direction.
Look straight at where the wind is coming from, then look 45 degrees to the left, and 45 degrees to the right. You have just mapped out your Cone, Quadrant or Funnel of Safety.
The less experienced the pilot - and the stronger the wind, the more important it is that you fly ONLY in this area - except on your final landing approach. If you get OUT of this area you have two choices - fly back into it or land the plane.
I say this because if you see people pranging planes, particularly beginners, it will invariably be outside the cone of safety.
Note that the stronger the wind, the narrower the cone.
OTHER DANGER ZONES
Firstly - too far away and too low - you can't see the plane as well and there is no contingency margin for error.
Secondly - immediately above you - you can't see if the plane is diving or stalling, you get a sore neck, you get giddy and before long the plane is doing the wrong thing.
TURNING - KEEP THE NOSE INTO THE WIND
It is very important that you can keep the nose into the wind, because this is the safest attitude for your plane. It also helps with orientation (see below) and if anything goes wrong, the wind will simply blow the plane back towards you, not further away.
Make your turn gentle. Ease the rudder stick until the plane starts to turn, then centre the stick.
Fly in an "S", always keeping the nose into the wind. If you start going downwind, simply continue the turn (or turn the opposite direction) until you are going into the wind again.
UP ELEVATOR (back stick)
If your were in a full size plane and you wanted to pull the nose up, you would pull the stick back towards you. Same with model planes. Forgetting this has killed many a beginners' plane - so make sure you read the end if this article which covers how you can accelerate your learning.
USING ELEVATOR IN THE TURN
In a very gentle turn you should not need any up elevator, but if your turn tightens, you will.
Initiate the turn with rudder, then bring in a little elevator and notice how the turn is tightened and the plane quickly comes around. To straighten up, flatten the plane with a little opposite rudder.
Practice this, not letting the nose drop or rise too much - and make your turns smooth.
One of the reasons for the plane always being upwind is that, because you are behind the plane, left is always left and right is always right. But as it comes towards you that all changes!!!
This is something you will have to get use to, and hints for learning this quicker are contained at the end of this section. (I was a very slow learner!!)
My glider has a Red panel on the Right wing, which sometimes helps beginners. (Actually it really should be on the left because Port side is Left is Red)
But when the plane is coming towards you - sometimes the brain forgets how to work out all this left-right business - so here is a hint to save you.. If the plane is coming towards you, putting a stick under the lower wing will always flatten it. See illustration below.
SQUEEZE THE STICKS - DON'T JAB AT THEM
Nervous new pilots are often scared to be gentle. Squeeze the sticks - as you begin to see your plane respond - ease them off. If your plane fails to respond, squeeze more assertively.
LET THE PLANE FLY ITSELF
If your plane is well trimmed (seeTrimming Your Plane) is should fly better than you can - so let it!!. I sometimes tell my trainees that flying a polyhedral glider is a series of corrections - point the plane in the direction that you want it to go - flatten it out - then centre the sticks and let it go there!!
If you are several mistakes high and the plane is all over the place, let go of the controls. A well balanced polyhedral winged glider will settle itself down. If it is diving, give it some up - but let it continue to fly.
(Note that Aileron planes are not usually so forgiving and WILL require appropriate control or they will be quickly lost)
USING THE DOWN ELEVATOR
Beginners are also often afraid to use the down elevator - but will have to - particularly on gliders on the slope or if the plane is not penetrating into a stiff breeze.
We teach loops at VARMS (a Melbourne club) glider training days, because it teaches beginners a number of skills, including diving, holding in down stick - getting confidence in the plane - and recovering. Of course loops should not be attempted if you are less than 17 mistakes high - and only if the plane is known to be strong enough.
The plane must be upwind - in your cone of safety - and going across the sky - ie from left to right or right to left.
Hold in some down to make the plane dive at 45 degrees - not too much - not too little - just long enough to build up speed. Then bring in full up and hold it until the plane completes a full loop and is flat - then immediately centre the elevator stick. If the plane finishes pointing downwards, bring its nose up - or if it finishes pointing upwards - drop the nose down a little before it stalls.
THE DOWNWIND TURN
If you don't fly above stall speed, your plane will drop from the sky. It is likely to recover if you have the height, if you don't have the height then it will hit the deck.
There are two speeds - the speed through the air (airspeed) and the speed over the ground (groundspeed). If you are flying into a breeze the airspeed may be high but the groundspeed may be low.
Now let's assume that this plane needs an airspeed of 15 kph to fly - then if it turns downwind then it's going to have to go over the ground a LOT faster to have an airspeed of 15 kph.
To make the transition from 7kph over the ground of 23 kph over the ground, it's going to have to accelerate - and it will need your help!
In a stiff breeze, turn slowly and let the plane build up speed. Practice this with plenty of height, because if you get it wrong close to the ground, you'll hit the ground.
If the turn is too tight, one wing may drop to stall speed and the plane may "tip-stall", ie one will drop suddenly.
And turning back into the wind will also require a gentle turn because you can see the groundspeed going downwind but may not recognise that the plane has little airspeed, so a quick turn allows the inner wing to stall and drop.
This has happened to me at the bottom of the downwind leg of the square landing approach (see bottom left of the illustration below), which is particularly dangerous as the plane is close to the ground.
Before taking your plane up, your trainer would have determined where it is to be landed.
As it lost height the plane will have been allowed to come downwind of your trainer and then turned back into the wind for its final approach. If there are other fliers about, your trainer will have called "Landing!".
A well trimmed plane will be stable and come down gently and slowly and will require only a little rudder to keep it its nose into the wind. Your trainer will show you if any elevator is required to bring the plane down - to stop it hitting the ground too fast or too hard.
Remember, switch off the receiver first and then the transmitter.
THE SQUARE LANDING APPROACH
To enable you to land into the wind, it is necessary, at an appropriate height, to first go downwind. This needs to be planned out before you take off.
As mentioned above, the turn at the bottom left of the above illustration must be done gently if the breeze is stiff as the plane may not in fact have much airspeed and in a tight turn the inner wing may stall and fall.
ALWAYS TAKE OFF AND LAND INTO THE WIND
A downwind landing can be fast and may damage your plane.
ACCELERATE YOUR LEARNING
Purpose built "Radio Control" flight simulators are very helpful but can be expensive. Some are available to download free from the net, but not being much of a computer person I leave that to others.
Spend a lot of time at home with your transmitter turned off, and just use the sticks pretending you are doing sweeping circles to the left and the right. This will help the concepts sink into your unconscious brain. Initiate the turn, bring in a little up, then opposite steering to flatten out the plane again. Don't underestimate the value of doing this sort of training.
Pretend to fly the plane towards you and imagine one wing dropping then, as illustrated above, put a stick under the lower wing to jack it up.
I began practicing "in my mind" on public transport on the way to and from work and managed to get about 40 minutes of "flying" in each day. I was a very slow learner and this helped me considerably.
The more "realistic" you make it in your mind the more successful it is. I was pleasantly surprised and saved a lot of glue as a result.
Fly the Cessna on Microsoft's Flight simulator (VERY cheap for the older version now) using the TOWER view and the zoom in setting (so it doesn't go too far away too quickly). Even if you don't have a joystick, just use the keypad and you will get used to the left/right orientation as it is coming toward you.
Now that we've got the common items done - let's get to the items specific to the type of flying you've chosen.
It is a good idea to avoid landing in trees (!!)
Try to keep your landings close to horizontal, not vertical.